Apple debuted its latest iPad Pro (2021) on Tuesday, powered by the M1 chip that has propelled Macs to new heights of performance. But how does it shape up against Microsoft’s Surface tablets, among the best Windows tablets you can buy? Based just on the specs—pretty well, as it turns out.
For years, Android tablets and the iPad have had to wrestle with the challenge: But is it a real computer? We’d still say that Windows offers flexibility and legacy support that the Mac doesn’t, but you can’t argue with the fact that Apple has made enormous strides in supplying a relatively inexpensive, powerful tablet that can compete with the best that Microsoft has to offer.
Apple’s iPad Pro (2021) ships in two configurations: an 11-inch model, beginning at $799; and a 12.9-inch version, for $1,099 and up. Those two versions essentially compete with Microsoft’s Surface Go 2, a 10.5-inch tablet priced as low as $400, and the Surface Pro 7+, a 12.3-inch tablet beginning at $900.
We’ll break down the key differences among the tablets, the advantages of each, and list what we know of the features at the end of this story. (Use our table of contents to jump ahead.)
At $730, the most expensive configuration of the Surface Go 2 is cheaper than the cheapest $799 11-inch Apple iPad Pro. It’s worth noting, however, that the Surface Go 2 tops out at 128GB of storage, the minimum for the 11-inch iPad Pro. The two devices are comparably sized, but they’re in an entirely different class from one another.
The Surface Pro 7+ starts at $900, still about $200 less than the 12.9-inch Apple iPad Pro. But the price climbs steadily from there, to $2,800. Microsoft tacks on quite a bit for the various configurations of the Surface Pro 7+. Apple’s most expensive 12.9-inch iPad Pro tops out at $2,199.
Operating system: A draw
This is an absolutely subjective decision. Apple’s iPadOS (a derivative of iOS) is backed by legions of top developers. Windows has a much smaller battery of apps, but they also include generations of legacy apps, utilities, and games.
Our Surface Go 2 review showed that the most powerful Core m3-8100Y processor in the tablet was about 33 percent slower than a 2017 MacBook Pro. Although we haven’t directly compared the Surface Go 2 and the 11-inch M1 iPad Pro, it’s safe to say the iPad will be massively more powerful.
How the 12.9-inch iPad Pro will compete against the 11th-gen Tiger Lake processor inside the Surface Pro 7+ is the big question. Fair, cross-platform benchmarks can be difficult to establish, as apps are coded for their specific operating systems. We can say that, running our own laptop tests using our synthetic benchmarks, the 8-core M1 MacBook Pro (not iPad) fell a bit short in some places. But Intel claims that in certain tasks the 11th-gen Tiger Lake chips that appear in devices like the Surface Pro 7+ are indeed faster.
Battery life: Surface Pro may prevail
Battery life can be affected by a number of factors: what apps are running, whether the device is connected to a network, how much power a component requires, and so on. Apple claims that all of the new iPad Pro models can remain powered on for about 10 hours of battery life while watching video, the metric we use for evaluating battery life.
Our Surface Go 2 review unit lasted about 7 hours and 20 minutes on our video rundown test. The Surface Pro 7+ ran for about 10 hours with a bigger battery. Given what we typically see in battery-life claims (using unreasonably dim screens), we anticipate that the Surface Pro 7+ battery life will outlast the iPad Pro by a small amount.
Wireless: The iPad is slightly ahead
All three devices can connect either via Wi-Fi 6 or cellular, though only the iPad Pro offers 5G connectivity options. The Windows devices use legacy LTE.
Camera: The iPad likely wins
We haven’t seen the iPad Pro’s camera in action, but we’re prepared to concede that the iPad camera will outclass the Surface by a considerable amount. (The iPad Pro’s camera offers a higher resolution, for one.) Speaking generally, Surface devices are designed as business tools to snap photos of documents and whiteboards and use the information in Office. Apple sees its iPad cameras as creative tools, and prioritizes the camera quality accordingly.
Accessories: Essential and expensive
One of the worst aspects of each device is the sinking feeling that the tablet itself isn’t enough. The one time I used Apple’s $329 Magic Keyboard, I hated it. I feel like Microsoft’s Signature Type Cover Keyboards are significantly better, but you’ll still have to pay $130 or so for one.
Surface Go 2, Surface Pro 7+, Apple iPad Pro (2021) by the specs
Below, we’ve listed what we know of the specifications of Apple’s new iPad Pro tablets, as well as information culled from our own Surface Go 2 review and the Surface Pro 7+ review, too. (We’ve highlighted what we tested, and listed the full specifications.) We’ve used Apple’s own iPad page as a reference for this information, too.
Specs don’t tell the whole story, of course, but any further judgment will have to wait for the iPad Pro reviews.